Environmentalists' waste storage complaint upheld

3 April 2002

The Supreme Court upheld a complaint filed by environmentalists from the Chelyabinsk region in the Urals Mountains on 26 February. The suit concerned a governmental decree (N1483-r), issued in 1998, that allowed the storage in Russia of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from the Hungarian Paks nuclear plant.

The legislation, which was in force at the time this governmental decree was published, prohibited imports of nuclear materials for storage in Russia - radwaste was to be returned to the country of origin. The new Law On Environmental Protection, signed by President Putin in January 2002, allows imports of spent nuclear fuel, but asserts Russia's "right to return the radioactive waste generated after the reprocessing [of SNF] to the country of its origin." In spite of these legal regulations, several shipments from Hungary to the Mayak plant took place in 1998 and 1999. Later, the Balkan crisis complicated the route of the trains with nuclear materials, and the shipments were halted. Nowadays all the waste, produced during the reprocessing of spent fuel from Paks, are stored at the Mayak. According to the verdict of the Supreme Court, this waste should be sent from Mayak back to Hungary.

The Supreme Court ruled that the government violated constitutional rights of the Chelyabinsk county inhabitants — the right to health protection, a clean environment and reliable information about it. The complaint was initiated by Greenpeace, the Movement for Nuclear Safety and citizens of the Chelyabinsk region.

The decree N1483-r has never been published. The environmentalists learned of its existence accidentally during legal proceedings against the Mayak combine. In this trial, started in May 2001, they demanded that Mayak stop releasing liquid radioactive wastes into the Karachay lake and other ponds.
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